Mentor. Role model. Friend.
On and off the water, rower Andrew Gaard benefits from Blake Nordstrom’s influence.
On his recruiting visit to Washington, Andrew Gaard stepped into a boat with Head Coach Michael Callahan and set off in wide-eyed wonder across Lake Washington — the first stroke toward a “magical and transformative” UW experience supported by another passionate Husky rower, the late Blake Nordstrom.
“I loved that we were part of the waterway and the greater community. People on bridges and on shore were yelling ‘Go Huskies!’. Fishermen were waving flags,” Wisconsin-raised Andrew recalls. “At the Ballard Locks, salmon were jumping. You could see the Olympic Mountains in the distance and all the boats and the entire shipping industry. It was magical.”
The UW’s academic reputation and Rowing’s commitment to “building outstanding student-athletes who extend themselves beyond the boat” made it an easy decision to choose Washington, the senior mechanical engineering major explains.
Andrew earned a national championship with his freshman teammates and then earned something even more valuable his sophomore year — the Willard Wakeman Endowed Men’s Crew Scholarship and a special friendship with its donor, Blake Nordstrom, who named the scholarship in honor of his grandfather.
The two men both grew up in close, competitive, sports-focused families. Andrew visited Blake at his corporate office and spent Thanksgiving with the extended Nordstrom family near the shores of Hood Canal.
“Blake showed me the importance of cultivating relationships and lifelong friendships,” says Andrew. “Engineers are pretty quiet, and I struggled with that. Blake said it was important to excel in the classroom, but it’s also important to develop relationships that mean something greater. He was committed to supporting everyone he met.”
Andrew stroked the under-23 men’s eight at the 2018 World Championships, setting a new world record and later being named U.S. Rowing’s Under-23 Male Athlete of the Year. Blake was so proud.
“You’ve blossomed into a competent person with strong leadership skills and far surpassing what outsiders who didn’t know you thought were possible, whether in school or on the water,” the Nordstrom co-president wrote in an email. “Your well-deserved recognition is a real credit to you and I couldn’t be more happy for you in terms of how many doors you’ve opened for a life going forward that will be rewarding and successful for you.”
“Someday when you’re old like me, it’s very rewarding to be able to give back to a program that is so meaningful for so many people,” Blake said in another email.
The friends’ shared connections took a sad turn when Blake was diagnosed with lymphoma — the same form of cancer that struck Andrew’s father, who is now in remission.
Nordstrom’s philosophy of “leave it better than you found it” impressed Andrew, who says it inspires him to give back to the Washington Rowing community in the future. He also was influenced by observing poverty and polluted waterways when he medaled in junior competition in Rio de Janeiro. After potentially training for the 2020 Olympics, Andrew hopes to use his mechanical engineering and communications skills to improve lives through technology.